Tag Archives: QPR

City thinks it'll come down to goal difference? Sigh. Guess we'll have to take all the points…

In a dazzling, dominant display, Man City absolutely obliterated QPR, scoring six goals against the hapless Hoops, who will now be relegated to the Championship. More relevant to our priorities though is what the result means for the other end of the table—City are now three points clear in second place, and their goal difference has climbed from +35 to +41. It’s hard to tell from the result whether this was City ascendant or QPR capitulant (yes, I know it’s not a real word. Give it time. For now, bear with me); in either case, our game in hand has become that much more important than it was before.

It’s hard a bird in the hand, though, and we’d be foolish to count the chickens before they’ve hatched. We do have to play against Swansea, Man U, and West Brom, Sunderland, after all, and each of these for its own reasons poses challenges. Our +33 goal difference, once cheek-and-jowl to City’s +35, is unlikely to rise to that gaudy, new +41 (and rising). Their trip to face Swansea next week and visit from Southampton to close out their season suggest that City can and will finish on 79 points and with a goal difference approaching somewhere in the +45 range. Much as I’d love for us to go on a scoring spree, I don’t see us eclipsing City. Let’s say they win their remaining two matches by one goal. They finish on 79 points with a +43 goal difference. We’d have to outscore three of our opponents by a combined twelve goals while losing against the fourth by one just one goal in order to match City’s 79 points but surpass them with a +44 goal difference. Those of us inclined to worry about another trip to Old Trafford might have already taken out their abacuses (abaci?) in order to figure out just how we can still manage our best finish in a decade.

There’s an easier way, one that involves far less maths and far more fun. Assuming that City do in fact win out, there’s just no realistic way for us to score roughly one-fifth of the goals we’ve scored all season in the remaining 2/19ths of it in order to overcome that goal difference they’ll have. Instead, let’s blow our wad on winning all four of our remaining matches. That is, after all, the easier task. If we can start simply by beating Swansea on Monday, Man U will have to concede that they will finish in fourth place. We’d have 73 points, and the highest Man U can finish is 74. We’ll have three more matches to play and just two points to earn to stay above them—if we end up doing things the hard way, though, and end up level on points (win once, draw once, lose twice while Man U win their two), goal difference might just become a concern; their +25 is just as far behind us as we are behind City.

Again, however, we can throw the abaci aside if we can just win three and draw one. That gives us ten points and allows us to finish on 80 points—one more than City can earn, goal differences be damned. For those who cling to their abaci, though, let’s have quick look at who we’ll face:

  • 12 May: home against Swansea. Tricky. They’re on the cusp of Europa League qualification, trailing Southampton by four and Tottenham by five. However, they’ll visit Man City next weekend to end the season and would need to win out while hoping that the Saints and Tots collapse completely. 
  • 17 May: Old Trafford. Fiendish. Man U have essentially earned a top-four finish, barring a freakish sequence of results for them and Liverpool, but they must crave some measure of revenge after we dumped them from the FA Cup in our last visit. If rumours are to believed, they’ll be without Rooney, Di Maria, Carrick, Shaw, and Smalling. Rumours also had us signing Higuaín. 
  • 20 May: home against Sunderland. A low simmer. They’re just two points above the drop-zone but have a game in hand over Hull. This one could get tetchy; the Black Cats have beaten Everton and Southampton in recent weeks and might be feeling a bit bolder in the run-in. If Sunderland beat Leicester this weekend, they’ll be all but assured of staying up regardless of how they do against us at the Emirates.
  • 30 May: home against West Brom. Tepid. The Baggies are comfortably ensconced mid-table with nothing to play for. Then again, they’ve gotten there by beating Liverpool, drawing at Old Trafford, and drawing again at St. James’ Park. A bit of a mixed bag, there.
We have four matches left, three of which are eminently winnable. They’re at home against squads that may or may not be fighting for something but whom we should certainly be able to defeat. One thing’s certain: we’re top-four. We’ll skip the rigmarole of fighting for Champions League qualification and are now setting our sights on bigger, better prizes. Finishing second might not be dramatically different from finishing third, but either is far-better than finishing fourth. 
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, what might it mean to transfer-targets to hear us say, “we finished second in the Prem, and you could be the key to us finishing first?” That’s worth a few moments’ consideration…
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Gabriel's gone. Sánchez sizzled. Giroud? Jury's still out.

So we’ve come through another win, one good enough to keep us in third place for at least another few weeks as the Prem by and large takes a break until the weekend of 14 March. We won, but so too did everone else in the top eight positions, and so the table will remain unchanged until then. For now, we can enjoy another match in which we again scored twice—the eleventh time we’ve done so in our last 12 outings (the exception being that abomination against AS Monaco…). As we approach the run-in, we do seem to be rounding into form, at least in the Prem if not the FA Cup. With just ten matches left to play, we’re just ahead of a pack of rivals in a mad-dash for third place—with an eye on third. A closer look at our squad suggests that we have it in us to fend off that pack and perhaps close in on second.

You score a goal, I score a goal, and we’ll score a goal together…

In what appears to be the most alarming news, new man Gabriel was subbed off in the 38th minute with what Arsène referred to as a hamstring injury that will sideline him for up to three weeks. All quips about “Arsenal DNA” aside, there’s something in here to suggest that this could have more to do with restoring Mertesacker to the starting line-up than it does with the actual condition of Gabriel’s hamstring. This would hardly be the first time we’ve seen an injury to one player restore another player to the starting line-up. After all of the drama of Mertesacker being dropped in favor of Gabriel, there’s a part of me that suspects that this injury offers a convenient way for Arsène to restore Mertesacker while bypassing the uncomfortable questions about form. After all, a significant factor in Mertesackers’ uneven form [cough] probably derives from the heavy minutes he’s logged and the players he’s played with. One, he’s gone for long stretches without Koscielny; two, he’s had to pair with Chambers, Debuchy, and Monreal as out-of-position CBs; three, he’s had to support Chambers and Bellerín; four, he’s played intense football almost non-stop for club and country since August 2013. If he needed a week off, so be it. Let’s hope then that Gabriel’s hamstring is the fig-leaf that allows Mertesacker a much-needed breather.

On to Alexis. The hand-wringers and knickers-twisters had been in a tizzy over the fact that Alexis hadn’t scored since 10 January (nine matches, for those who enjoy that sort of thing). As with Mesut Özil, those who were wringing those hands and twisting those knickers were conflating statistics with contributions. For one, let’s admit that Alexis has played many more minutes from December through February than he ever has before, and he’s done so under far-more pressure as well. Playing for Barcelona, he could count on (a) a much-milder climate, (b) far less scrutiny, and (c) a lengthy lay-off from competitive matches. Those factos aside, his critics overlook the fact that a player can contribute in ways that don’t appear in the scoreline. For our first goal, for example, Alexis slalomed through the QPR defense before laying off a pass to Gibbs, who fluffed his shot a bit. Key pass for Alexis? Sure. Assist? Nope. Giroud swoops in and nabs the goal, but Alexis’s hard work might go all but unnoticed. For the second, though, Alexis left no doubts, flummoxing several defenders before beating Green at the near-post. The goal should quiet his critics a bit, but because those critics seem to focus so exclusively on goals and assists, it’s only a matter of time before they redouble their attacks. So it goes.

Speaking of goals, Giroud delivered his fifth goal in as many appearances, which would ordinarily be enough to quiet his critics, but in world in which one most occupy one cleary staked-out position, devoid of nuance or subtlely, a player is either utterly worthless or totally sublime. Miss a few chances, regardless of the skill and technique required to consummate? Worthless. Bag a brace, regardless of the contributions of others? Sublime. So it may be with Giroud. His goal came through a bit of fine work and an intelligent run through the box as he watched Alexis operate on QPR’s right flank. As the play developed, though, Gibbs made an assertive run and Giroud aborted his own run to see what Gibbs would do with the ball. Gibbs’s shot was not the best, but Giroud was right where he needed to be, and beat Green with a calm, left-footed shot. For his defenders, it’s further evidence of his savvy; for his critics, it’s further evidence of his dumb luck. Never the twain shall meet, it seems. Is he striker we need to deliver us to the top of the Prem? Clearly not. Is he a Bendtner-Chamakh retread? Just as clearly not.

Time is running short. However, knowing now what you do about the injuries we’ve had to fight through, would you have predicted that this squad would find itself third behind only the maniacally-spending Chelsea and Man City and ahead of the manically-spending Man U and Liverpool? Even with those injuries, we have more than fighting chance. We’re not squabbling and clambering to get to fourth; we’re positioned to solidify if not build on our current third-place position. We might even be gathering strength for the run-in. Imagine that…

QPR 1-2 Arsenal: Vote for Player-Ratings/MotM

Arsenal fended off a strong first half from QPR to go into halftime in a scoreless tie, but shortly after halftime, Giroud scored, pouncing on a rebound from a Gibbs shot, to score his fifth goal in as many games. Barely five minutes later, Alexis shivved his way through two defenders to beat Green at the near post to make it 0-2. From there, QPR seemed to fade until Charlie Austin found a goal with eight minutes to create a mirror image of the opposite fixture when we defeated the Hoops 2-1, again with Austin netting. Little shame in that as the man has found the back of the net some 15 times to date. At any rate, the result is what counts, and it’s enough to keep us in third for a little while longer as we prepare to face Man U in the FA Cup on Monday. Everyone else around us won, so the table remains unchanged. More on that later. For now, get to the poll and rate our players!

Arsenal-QPR Preview: Charlie Austin, your purple-patch has dried up…

Hot off the heels of a reassuring win over Everton at the Emirates, Arsenal have to make the intrepid, half-hour jog over to Loftus Road to face QPR, they of Joey Barton, ‘Arry Redknapp, and—blast, but it’s hard to get worked over a fixture against an opponent whose most villainous representative is—who? Rio Ferdinand? He’s hardly a paladin, but he’s certainly not the kind of caricature against whom we can summon any real bile. More’s the pity. All kidding aside, at least for a sentence or two, we’d do well to be wary of a squad that boasts of a goal-scorer in Charlie Austin, he of the 14 Prem goals, not to mention an entire squad that’s been resting since 21 February thanks to Tottenham’s attempt at winning some kind of silverware for once. Whether this means that QPR will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed or rusty and out of sorts remains to be seen.

At our end of things, we come off of a result positive enough to almost erase the bad aftertaste of the in-mouth vomit that happened a last week Wednesday. Without dredging up the dreary details, I think we can all agree that our last midweek performance left something to be desired. However, we rebounded well enough, seeing off an Everton side that was trying to get a stronger grip on staying up in the Prem, saving Roberto Martínez the ignominy of guiding two different clubs to relegation. At least he could claim FA Cup the first time through. However, we’re done with Everton and on to QPR.

As it currently stands, QPR are just above relegation thanks only to a goal-difference superior to Burnsley’s (-18 versus -20 for those interested). Burnley travel to Anfield while QPR host us. While the battle to stave off relegation will last through the run-in, it’s likely that we’ll face a side desperate to find a point if not three on Wednesday in order to claw its way out of danger. Any time your squad can boast one of the Prem’s top-three goal-scorers, you always have a chance. I speak, of course, of Charlie Austin.

Austin has scored at home against Man City and away against Southampton, Chelsea, and [cough] Arsenal. There’s enough in that to suggest that he’s no flat-track bully and he doesn’t shy away from the big matches. If anything, it seems, he rises to the occasion. There is one asterisk to attend, but whether it signifies caution or safety remains to be seen: over a nine-match stretch from late October to Boxing Day, Austin delivered ten goals and one assist, an impressive return. However, since then, he’s managed just two goals in his last eight appearances. Does this mean that he’s reverted to the mean or that he’s ready for another explosion?

It’s unlikely if not impossible as QPR will go into the match without Joey Barton and Leroy Fer, who have been instrumental to QPR’s attack. Without them, we might find it far easier to deny Austin the service he needs to be effective. He’s not the kind of striker who creates his own chances. Instead, like Andy Carroll, he depends on service from others. Without Barton and Fer, denying that service gets a bit easier.

The Prem debut of Gabriel augurs well for nullifying Austin, as the Brazilian overcame some early jitters to deliver a fine performance, all but nullifying Lukaku. If Gabriel gets the nod over Mertesacker, we should see the Gabriel-Koscielny pairing starting to round into shape; both centre-backs have the pace and physicality to grapple with Austin. Whereas Mertesacker has offered stability and experience, his lack of pace and aggression have arguably undermined us more often than his tackles and goals have saved us.

Still, there’s no avoiding the fact that the onus is on us. This is another must-win, should-win match. It’s more than likely that Liverpool will see off Burnley, and it might be optimistic to think that any of our other rivals will drop points in any way, shape, or form. If we can’t defeat a squad on the edge of relegation, well, we don’t really deserve to stay in third place, now, do we?

Enough of Giroud. Why were Onuoha and Ferdinand stil on the pitch (and other gripes)?

Let’s get a few things out of the way right off the bat. One, Giroud, took the bait. He fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Two, the fact that we were still looking to put QPR away 52 minutes into a match is a far-bigger issue than the decisions Atkinson was making. Three, if we’re looking to the referee to help us see off QPR, well, we have bigger issues than how much contact Giroud’s forehead made with Onuoha. This was one we really should have settled by halftime but have no one to blame, really, but ourselves. Having gotten that out of the way, let’s get to the self-righteous umbrage-taking, shall we?

As to the incident itself, it’s ludicrous that Onuoha wasn’t booked for the shove that so enraged Giroud. For what it’s worth, that should have been a second yellow for Onuoha after manhandling Welbeck in the 24th minute, dragging him down inside the area only for Atkinson to wave play on. Welbeck does get pulled to the ground as Onuoha has both hands wrapped ’round him from behind. Moments later, Ferdinand does see yellow for tripping Welbeck. You might ask what Ferdinand has to do with anything when it would be Onuoha who later on shoves Giroud into the keeper.

Alexis had wasted a penalty, scuffing a tame shot that Green had no trouble in saving, but he atoned for that with a nifty headed goal in the 36th minute to break the seal, and it felt for a moment as if we could run away with the match. However, the minutes dragged on, and we had to wait until after halftime to find a second goal. Tomáš Rosický lofted a lovely ball behind QPR’s back line, and it was Giroud who outraced Onuoha and Ferdinand only for Green to beat him to it, but his clearance struck Giroud, who had been shouldered forward by Onuoha. Giroud jumped up and charged towards Onuoha, leaning in with his head as if to go to forehead-to-forehead with the 94kg defender who fell as if struck by a 2×4. Giroud seemed almost immediately to regret the moment of madness. It occurred in full-view of Atkinson, who wasted no time in sending Giroud off on a straight red. A three-match ban has already been issued, meaning that Giroud will miss trips to Upton Park and St. Mary’s as well as a visit from Hull. So be it.

Back to the dilemma in front of us. Giroud, as mentioned, has taken the bait, and he seems to know it. As he trots off, along comes Rio Ferdinand from behind with a cartoonish look of malice, and he grabs Giroud’s neck roughly and mutters something no doubt very Zen and New Age-ish about aligning one’s chakras. This happens, again, in full view of Atkinson, who does nothing even as he watches. Given how quickly Onuoha went to ground, it’s a pity that Giroud took the high road, shrugging off the shiatsu massage and leaving the pitch. Perhaps he should have gone to ground, gasping and clutching at his throat. Had Atkinson deigned to show any awareness of the situation, he would have at least discussed the issue with Ferdinand, suggesting if nothing else that one must apply gentle pressure with both hands rather than squeezing tightly with one. Ah, well. I’m sure that Atkinson looks for only the most-definite, egregious of fouls, especially in the area, before he’ll step in.

Oh. What’s that? QPR’s goal came through a penalty awarded on the slightest of touches? Debuchy made more contact with the ball than he did with the extant molecules of Hoilett’s sock, and yet Atkinson saw fit to award the penalty, which Austin blasted straight down the middle. Arsenal 2-1 QPR. Squeaky-bum time as we’d go into the final 15 minutes down a man against a desperate and inspired squad. Still, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Late on, Gibbs was lucky when he scythed down Zamora in the first minute of stoppage-time as Zamora looked to latch onto a cross just seven yards out. Perhaps atoning for other calls and non-calls, Atkinson ignored the clash. Whether that represents some kind of karma or simply a continuation of shoddy refereeing is for others to decide.

We’ll have a few days to process what this means. It’s rare that a win should provoke such soul-searching, but we have to grapple with a dilemma. We’ve just barely beaten one of the Prem’s worst sides while playing at home, and we’ll again be without a vital cog, misfiring though he be, for three matches, two of them involving visits tp clubs sitting above us on the table. Here’s hoping that the win and the sending-off galvanize us in some mysterious, pseudo-scientific way. Combined with West Ham’s loss at Stamford Bridge, our trip to Upton Park on Sunday gets a bit tetchier. If nothing else, we get to say that we live in interesting times…